Intricate Twists and Turns of Justice in Iran - "Beautiful City" Review

By Laura Kern The New York Times

In "Beautiful City," two troubled young friends in Iran, Akbar (Hossein Farzizadeh) and Ala (Babak Ansari), are confined to a juvenile detention center, Akbar first for the murder of a girlfriend, Ala for petty thievery. Akbar has just turned 18, the age at which convicts are transferred to the adult facilities and can be legally executed.

This strongly acted second feature by the writer-director Asghar Farhadi is neither a prison film (scenes set behind bars don't appear past the opening section, and neither does Akbar, for that matter) nor an inquiry into guilt or innocence. Rather, it's a penetrating exploration of retribution versus forgiveness, blood money, sacrifice and the intricacies of Iran's Islamic judicial system, which places twice as much value on a man's life as on a woman's and permits murderers' death penalties to be lifted only through the request of - and in certain cases, payment from - victims' families.

Ala is set free early because of good behavior and the support of a sympathetic guard, and teams up with Akbar's sister Firouzeh (Taraneh Alidousti), a headstrong single mom, to petition the murdered girl's father to appeal for clemency, which would spare Akbar's life. As Ala and Firouzeh persist, strong feelings develop between them, introducing elements of romance to an already emotionally complex story. Only inconsistent pacing and a few minor contrivances that develop late in the film dull its otherwise quietly effective dramatic impact.

Originally Published March 27, 2006

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